Sunday, November 15, 2009


I have always been intrigued by hugs. I was slightly surprised and extremely moved the first time I saw two teenage guys hug one another - I was at a Jewish camp, and I thought that it could only happen there. Most guys thought themselves too tough for such displays of closeness. My family is very huggy, and it was not until I went to college that I realized how important those hugs really are. I can remember the first hug at college. It was a big deal; it meant I finally had a friend. There were probably thousands of hugs after that, and each time I see those college friends, we embrace.

Both times I lived in France were nearly devoid of hugs. I remember being so excited when some friends from Ann Arbor came to visit; there were lots of hugs (not to mention when my parents came). And then I moved to Arizona. Let's just say that law school was not hug central for me. For the first time I lived alone, and I did not open up to people at school with hugs. They came - infrequent but there. (Now, those law school friends are huggers; it just took some time.) And then I started doing yoga. At first, I was anonymous at Tucson Yoga, but law school required more frequent attendance at the yoga studio, and before I knew it, I recognized half the people in most of my classes. Out of nowhere, the hugs began. They were greetings and goodbyes, quick and long, and sometimes reassurances, but they were always a sense of connection.

Last week, I stayed after my yoga teacher training class chatting with another student (considering class ends at 9:30, I usually bolt out of there, but this was an important conversation). We were talking about drug addicts, dangerous neighborhoods, and prostitutes. What, you ask, does this have to do with hugs? Well, everything!

I have spent a lot of time in courtrooms watching people who presumably once loved each other have such contempt and hatred for one another that they cannot sit next to each other and are willing to tell the world (aka the judge) every bad act the other one has ever committed - numerous times. I have spent just as much time in courtrooms watching people fight to keep their children, often losing or giving up that fight eventually, because drugs have become easier than facing reality. I have heard both these groups of people called a lot of names. My professional career is dedicated to making the system work better for them and their children. But all that time in courtrooms, I wanted to do the one thing I absolutely could not do - give them a hug.

There has been one other time in my life where I was told I could not give someone a hug. I was a camp counselor. As a society, we have become so fearful of pedophiles that I was told by the powers-that-be that hugs were off limits to the kids. At the time, I worked with school-age children and preschoolers. How do you tell a 2-year old she cannot sit in your lap? How do you tell a crying 6-year old you cannot give him a hug? How do you tell the 10-year-old who is just happy to see you that she cannot hug you? Well, I didn't. Luckily, I didn't lose that job, but I decided that I was not going to tell those kids they couldn't get a hug.

But a courtroom is different than the playground. Sadly, the parents in the courtroom were in just about the same emotional state as the children on the playground. But the rules are different, and this time I followed them. But I couldn't help thinking, how much better would these people feel if instead of an order, we gave them a hug? Hugs have been shown to work miracles; people travel from all over the world to meet Amma, the spiritual leader who gives hugs. But what would a client do if his lawyer hugged him? What would a patient do if her doctor hugged her? Our knee-jerk reactions to these questions are, "that's unethical!" Maybe it is. That's sad, at least in my opinion. Luckily, I have also seen those happy endings, especially when parents get their children returned to them, and their cases are dismissed. And yes, I have seen hugs on those days. Perhaps that is why those who work in juvenile court love it so much.

But a hug can melt away sadness. A hug can be the support someone needs. A hug can be a source of new strength. Who are these people I saw so often in the courtroom? They were people who had fallen out of love - no more hugs. They were people who had lost their children - no more hugs. They were people who felt all alone in the world. I know; I have been there. That first hug in any new home is powerful. It's a sign that you belong. It's a reminder that we really are all interconnected.

And yes, my (almost) first new-friend hug in Phoenix was at the end of a conversation about drug addicts and prostitution. (I actually thought it was the first until I remembered one at the end of another YTT class from one of the teachers.) My part of that conversation was based exclusively on what I learned in the courtroom watching all those families being torn apart. What better way to honor them and their stories than with one of my first Phoenix hugs? This blog is about connecting yoga and the law, finding a way to do both. And here, I have an answer. While I may never be able to hug someone in court, yoga has taught me that energetic hugs are almost as good. I send one to each of you reading this and to all those families, past, present, and future.

Who have you hugged today?

Namaste and Blessings.

© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I was thinking about that today at my new job - my previous kids experience was with family so they didn't care if I hugged the kids. I thought of it today when I touched a kid on the shoulder, on the back, wondering if any of the teachers touch the kids at all and what my bosses would have to say if they saw me do it.

  2. While I never worked in the adoption court, I know that the judge who did the court and signed the adoptions loved that process, not only because she was helping put new families together, but also because, at the end of the ceremonies, everyone hugged, including the judge.

  3. Becca, you are like my philosophical guru as of late! Yea I agree about the U.S. having pedophile-phobia...going overboard on the anti-touching rules - hugging the kids I teach here has actually been something I've had to relearn. I watched myself feeling awkward doing it and wondered why, and yet at the same time, felt unprofessional and somehow like I was breaking rules giving the kids a hug at first. I do it all the time now though, Korea's a place where they don't mind the foreign teachers to goof around with the kids, and they aren't nearly so anti-hugging as the U.S. Its so great to be able to let go and not be afraid to touch someone, ya know? Be they small or big, sometimes-often?- a physical connection is really spiritual. Anyway when a crying 5 yr old reaches for me, or when we have story time and someone wants to sit in my lap its so perfectly peaceful somtimes. My first day, a five year old named Kitty wanted to give me a kiss on the cheek to say goodbye until tomorrow - and I will forever remember that simple welcoming gesture.

  4. Thank you all so much for the comments. Sarah, that is a beautiful story. I remember getting hugs and yes, kisses from the kids in France, and it worried me until I realized that the French thought it was normal . . . because it is. And yes, the physical connection, even a pat on the back, is a beautiful spiritual connection. And Phil/Dad, adoptions are the best days of all - too bad I was at your house on adoption day in Tucson. :)